F1 pitstops are one of the exciting and adrenaline filled parts of Formula One racing and many people dream of being part of the crew that changes tyres during the race. This aspect of the team is often misunderstood however so this post aims to explain a little more about a team’s pitcrew.
Practice makes perfect
It now takes less than 3 seconds to change all four wheels and tyres on a modern F1 car. You can’t do a lot in 3 seconds. Blink and you might miss it.
Pitstops are probably the most visually impressive part of grand prix racing and are something that separates F1 teams members from mere mortals. At least that is what many people think…
The truth is that the pit crew are actually a bunch of ordinary guys (or girls, but I’m not aware of any female tyre changers at the moment). Contrary to what many people think, there is no such job as an F1 tyre changer or pit crew, the guys that do it all have normal jobs within the race team and the pitstops are just a small part of what they do in their day to day set of tasks.
The majority of the guys who make up the pitcrew are the car’s mechanics, but the crew may also include truck drivers and engine fitters. The role is essentially open to anyone on the race team who does not have a critical role once the race is underway and shows a talent for it. The only fixed role is that of the chief mechanic will normally be ‘lollipop man’, ie he will oversee each stop from the front and then controls the release of the car after the stop is safely completed. This job is still critical even with the evolution of automatic release and traffic lights.
The remaining crew members are then selected based on their physical attributed, jack men tend to be tall and week built as requires physical strength to lift the car. Wheel gunners themselves tend to be lighter and more agile but it’s hard to convey on TV how violent the pneumatic rattle guns can be, it’s still a very physical part of the job.
Man and machine
The machinery of each team is highly developed to minimise the pitstop time. The wheel, the nuts, the axles, wheel guns and even the brake ducts are all designed to make wheel on and off actions as quick and simple as possible. Regular pitstop practice then allows each team member to perfect his/her movements and make the entire process second nature come race day. It should not require any thought.
Most teams will practice equipment failure, cross threads or ‘man down’ drills (if the driver misses his marks!) as well as routine stops so that everybody knows what to do when there is a problem and the delay to the car is minimised. There is normally a designated ‘pit stop’ car (typically a previous year’s chassis) which is used for practice and can be modified for any development ideas that might need trialling. Video is now commonly used to post analyse each stop and see which areas might need improving. It’s a continuous process.
How do I get on the team?
As I mentioned above, you’ll never see a job advert asking for a pit crew member. You can’t just be a wheel changer on an F1 team. To get involved you’ll need to be already on the race team as a mechanic or a truckie as your normal day job and then you’ll get the chance to be involved. This is where many people get confused. You have to take the rough with the smooth.
It’s not a job for the faint hearted either! Whilst the banning of refuelling has drastically reduced the chances of a pitlane inferno pitcrew members are taking great risks in their jobs. I don’t think any of us would want to be involved in something like this which occured during a pitstop in 1994 with the Benetton team. Remind yourself that these are real people with families on ordinary salaries.
Pitlane speed limits are still up there with motorway travel and it takes a brave man to walk out and stand in front of a car braking from over 60mph. One thing is for sure though, anyone who has ever served as a F1 pit crew member will never forget it and the immense adrenaline buzz it must bring.
Keep in touch
If you are interested in a career in Formula 1 or want to learn more about how you can get involved, take a look through my list of frequently asked questions or read through some of my other recent posts. Keep checking my blog for new articles or use the follow form on the home page to be kept up to date by email. I hope to shortly post a series of job role descriptions, detailing what the day to day duties of a designer, aerodynamicist, data engineer and many other people who make up an F1 team really are. If there is something specific you want to know, add a comment to this post and I’ll make sure that I get back to you with an answer.
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